ATHENS – When you cut through all the rhetoric, it comes down to Florida for DawgNation. That’s my read on it.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity is feeling a great deal of heat these days. It seems he has become everybody’s favorite punching bag for everything that’s not up to snuff about UGA athletics. Long lines at the concession stands? It’s McGarity’s fault. Poor restroom facilities? McGarity’s fault. Losing the NCAA Tennis Tournament to other venues? McGarity’s fault. Losing to the Gators in virtually every sport of import? It’s McGarity’s fault.
I feel for him. Ultimately, everything that happens with UGA athletics is his responsibility. That’s why he makes the big bucks, as they say. But I’ve also known McGarity for many, many years, and I know there is nobody who wants Georgia to do well on all fronts more than he does.
That said, there is nothing that beating the Gators in a few athletic contests won’t remedy. The Bulldogs could start by winning that little tilt on the banks of the St. Johns River the last Saturday in October.
And that’s the bottom line. Georgia just hasn’t competed well against Florida, which, by all accounts, is the school’s greatest rival. I’d hazard to guess it has surpassed the rivalry with Georgia Tech.
That’s where I believe there is a disconnect between what we do here at DawgNation and what UGA would have us do. We’re too negative, they say. We don’t draw enough attention to what the Bulldogs are doing well.
For instance, the folks at UGA have been on me for a while to draw some positive attention to the fact that the Bulldogs finished 15th as a program in the Learfield NACDA Directors’ Cup standings for the 2016-17 academic year. Georgia leaders say that hasn’t been put that in proper context.
So here’s some context: NACDA stands for National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. Points are awarded based on each school’s national finish in up to 20 sports —10 men’s and 10 women’s — and a school must reach the national tournament to earn credit.
By posting yet another top 20 finish in what overall might have seemed a down year, UGA becomes one of only six Division I schools to finish in the top 20 every year since 1997-98.
The others also to accomplish that feat are Florida, North Carolina, Stanford, Texas and UCLA. As we say in these parts, that’s pretty high cotton.
It’s even more impressive when you consider that Georgia has been able to do that while competing in only 20 recognized sports. UGA actually fields 21 sports, but the NCAA doesn’t recognize equestrian, a sport in which the Bulldogs happen to be extremely good. Schools such as Stanford and Ohio State field 36 and 37 sports, respectively, so they have a lot more places from which to draw points.
Stanford has claimed the Waterford crystal trophy that comes with finishing first in the Director’s Cup in 23 of the award’s 24 years in existence.
Still, Georgia has finished in the top 20 in 22 of the competition’s 24 years. UGA drew its points from just 15 sports in 2016-17, none of which won a national championship. The top points-getters were women’s track, which had runner-up finishes in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, and men’s tennis (third place). Other top-10 finishes were recorded by women’s swimming (fourth), men’s indoor track (fourth), men’s outdoor track and field (sixth), gymnastics (seventh), men’s swimming and diving (eighth) and women’s tennis (ninth place).
But which school finished ahead of Georgia in almost all of those sports? That’s right, Florida.
More telling, when you start to look closely at this data, is the sports from which Georgia didn’t draw any points. The Bulldogs didn’t gain any points this year from baseball, or men’s and women’s basketball. And they pulled only a few from the sport that matters most around here. Football, which went 8-5 and defeated TCU in the Liberty Bowl, was credited with a No. 33 national finish by some equation with which I’m not familiar.
And therein lies the rub on Georgia athletics at the moment. The Bulldogs haven’t been doing very well in the sports that matter. Florida, by contrast, has been doing quite well.
For instance, when Georgia was fighting and scrapping and clawing for that last spot in the SEC Baseball Tournament — from which it was summarily bounced after one game — the Gators were on their way to the College World Series and the NCAA baseball championship.
After getting swept yet again by the Gators in men’s basketball and coming up short for an NCAA Tournament bid, Florida was in midst of finishing 27-9 and going deep in another tournament, which it has won a couple of times this century.
And in 2016, Georgia football lost to the Gators 24-10 in Jacksonville. That was Florida’s third win in a row in the series and its 21st in the last 27 years, dating back to 1990.
With the exception of men’s tennis and swimming, the Gators mostly are dominating the Bulldogs in all sports. More recently, Georgia even has been overtaken by the Florida in gymnastics, a sport that it previously ruled.
The irony of it all is McGarity was brought here seven years ago from Florida – where he served in a No. 2 role for 18 years – for the express purpose of seeing that Georgia closed the gap on the Gators. Instead it has only widened.
Here at DawgNation, we’ve been accused by UGA – and a few fans, here and there – of being too negative. But it’s my contention that we’re merely reflecting the negative sentiment that’s already out there. We hear about it in our email inboxes and read it in the comments sections here and on other fan sites.
But you know what? It’s nothing that a win over the Gators in Jacksonville and a couple of “Ws” in basketball and baseball won’t fix. Winning cures all, they say, and beating Florida in anything, at any time, surely will help Georgia’s cause.